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Alzheimer’s Smell Test: What Losing Your Sense of Smell Means for an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

By | August 18th, 2017

What Losing Your Sense of Smell Means for an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

For the most part, once the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease start showing up, it’s often too late to significantly intervene and alter the progression of the disease. We know now that physical changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s can start as many as 20 years before symptoms like confusion and memory loss set in. That’s why this study from McGill University on the relation between sense of smell and the development of Alzheimer’s disease is so important. Detecting whether someone is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s could be as simple as a sniff test.

Smell Identification Study for Alzheimer’s Disease Early Detection

In the study, around 300 participants with an average age of 63 were asked to identify smells like gasoline, bubble gum and lemon. The participants were all considered at-risk for Alzheimer’s because one or more immediate family member suffered from the disease. Researchers found that the participants in the Alzheimer’s smell test who had the most difficulty identifying the scents also had the most evident biological markers for Alzheimer’s disease, like tau, and scored worse on memory tests. Considering the olfactory bulb (the brain’s scent identifier) and the entorhinal cortex (the part of the brain associated with memory and naming odors) are some of the first parts of the brain to be affected by Alzheimer’s, it’s a finding that makes sense.

Smell test to reduce Alzheimer’s Disease Severity

According to one of the researchers working on the Alzheimer’s smell test study, delaying Alzheimer’s symptoms for just five years can reduce the severity of those symptoms by 50 percent. Researchers hope that developing less invasive tests to detect Alzheimer’s will allow patients to seek out clinical trials or make beneficial lifestyle changes earlier in order to stave off the symptoms of the disease for as long as possible.

Of course, it is important to note that loss of smell can be associated with a lot of different diseases, not just Alzheimer’s. For now, researchers still recommend that the same standard diagnostic tools be used in detecting Alzheimer’s.

Read the full write-up here.

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